Abu Simbel Temples
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Abu Simbel is a small village in southern Egypt that is famous for its ancient temple complex and historical significance. The mostly Nubian village of Abu Simbel, 280km (174 miles) south of Aswan, has some restaurants and cafés, as well as a few comfortable hotels. It is a relaxed kind of place, where people play backgammon in cafés or listen to Nubian music at night. The lake looks beautiful at different times of the day, but it’s especially wonderful to visit the temple at the crack of dawn before the crowds arrive, or late afternoon.
Many tourists include a day excursion to Abu Simbel in their programme, but increasingly, as the sites along the Nile get more and more inundated by tourists, the attraction of a few days of peace and quiet on the very unspoilt and unvisited Lake Nasser has grown immensely.
A few cruise boats tour the monuments around the lake – and in many cases this is the only way of accessing the temples that were salvaged from the water and located on higher grounds – and increasingly companies organise fishing safaris, looking for the giant Nile perch and other fish.
The Temple of Ramesses II is the largest and most magnificent monument in Nubia. Over the centuries the desert sands covered up most of the temple’s facade, and it was lost to the world until 1813, when the Swiss explorer Jean-Louis Burkhardt discovered it by chance as he travelled up the Nile.
Salvaging the temple from Lake Nasser presented a formidable challenge to the rescuers. The moving of the temple, which took more than five years from 1966 to 1972, was regarded at the time as one of the wonders of modern engineering.
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As you step foot into this archaeological gem, prepare to be transported back in time to the era of pharaohs and dynasties. Home to the magnificent Abu Simbel Temples, this UNESCO World Heritage Site offers a plethora of incredible experiences that will leave you in awe.
Marvel at the colossal statues of Ramses II, explore the intricate hieroglyphics that adorn the temple walls, or immerse yourself in the rich history and culture of this remarkable place.
The temple of Ramesses II was carved out of the mountain face between 1274 and 1244 BC, to confirm Ramesses II’s might to all those who sailed down the Nile from the south, particularly the prosperous Nubians.
The rock temple was dedicated to the main gods of Upper and Lower Egypt, Amun-Ra and Ra-Harakhte, but also to the deified pharaoh himself. Over the centuries the desert sands covered up most of the temple’s facade, indeed only one head stuck out of the sand when Swiss explorer Jean-Louis Burkhardt discovered it by chance in 1813.
It took the Italian explorer Giovanni Belzoni several years to clear enough sand to enter the temple. Unlike other temples, Abu Simbel was not freestanding; the facade was the cliff face itself hewn in imitation of a pylon and dominated by four colossi of a youthful Ramesses II.
The temple was sawed into more than 1,000 transportable pieces, some weighing as much as 15 tonnes, and reassembled at a new site 60 metres (200ft) higher than the original. The ground was levelled, and a great reinforced concrete dome was made to cover the temple.
The four seated 20 metre-high (66ft) colossi of Ramesses II dominate the facade. The pharaoh considered himself a reincarnation of the sun-god Ra. At his feet are some of his children, and the supporting balustrade has kneeling and bound African captives on the south side and Asian captives on the north side.
Look out for the graffiti left by earlier travellers, particularly on the two southern colossi; on the left leg of the second statue is a Greek inscription from mercenaries who passed by in the 6th century BC.
The portal, topped by a statue of the falcon-headed sun-god, leads into the Great Hypostyle Hall. This central hall is flanked by eight 10-metre (33ft) -high Osiride statues of the king in a double row facing each other, against a corresponding number of square pillars.
The northern wall of the Hypostyle Hall is decorated with the Battle of Kadesh, in which the young Ramesses II confronted the Hittites in Syria. It is one of the most extraordinary and detailed reliefs to be found in the Nile Valley.
There are more than 1,100 figures and the entire wall, from ceiling to bedrock, is filled with activity: the march of the Egyptian Army with its infantry and charioteers, its engagement in hand-to-hand combat and the flight of the vanquished prisoners, leaving overturned chariots behind them.
The much smaller Second Hypostyle Hall has just four large pillars and is decorated with scenes of offerings. Next is the vestibule that leads to the sanctuary carved out of the mountain to a depth of 55 metres (180ft).
Inside this is an altar and the seated statues of Ptah of Memphis, Amun-Ra of Thebes, the deified Ramesses II and Ra-Harakhte, the sun-god of Heliopolis; they are all the same size, indicating equality between the king and the gods.
Outside and south of the temple is a small chapel dedicated to Thoth, the god of learning, and five steles dedicated to high officials of Ramesses II. Unfortunately, at the time of writing it is no longer possible to enter the steel-enforced concrete dome that supports the temple (which gives a fascinating insight into the salvage process).
The small Temple of Queen Nefertari, which lay to the north of the great temple of her husband Ramesses II, was also saved. Nefertari was the most beloved of the wives of Ramesses II; and the pharaoh took the unprecedented step of having the facade of this temple decorated with statues of himself, his wife and their children.
The goddess Hathor, to whom the temple is also dedicated, lovingly attends to the sun-god during his day’s passage, so Nefertari is depicted watching admiringly as her husband kills his enemies.
A sound and light show is staged daily at Abu Simbel, with projections on the great and minor temple facades showing how they once looked. Earpieces are provided, allowing visitors to listen to the commentary in English, Arabic, French, Italian, Spanish, German, Russian, Chinese and Japanese.
The small Temple of Hathor is named after the patroness of music, with a good relief of musicians.
On Hadrian’s Gate an interesting relief depicts the source of the Nile as the Nile god Hapi, who pours water from two jars, a scene alluding to the ancient Egyptian belief that the source of the Nile was to be found at the First Cataract, from where it flowed both north towards the Mediterranean and south towards Sudan).
The most photographed part of the temple is probably Trajan’s Kiosk, (AD c.100), displaying floral columns and reliefs of the Roman Emperor Trajan making offerings to Isis and Osiris.
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Although most visitors come to Abu Simbel as part of a tour, there are a handful of hotels and resorts where you can stay the night.
There are five hotels near the Abu Simbel temples where you can stay. Most are decent and priced accordingly. A little further out, in the town itself, there is a clutch of cheaper digs.
A popular destination for Nile cruises, most visitors will stay aboard their boat in Aswan. But there are a handful of decent places to stay here too, including some long-term rentals.
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Make the most out of your visit to the Abu Simbel temples with these tips.
Entry into the Abu Simbel temples costs 260 EGP (US$8.50) per person, 130 EGP (US$4.50) for students (take valid ID), or 300 EGP (US$10) for a photography ticket.
The Abu Simbel temples are open 6am–5pm October to April and 6am–6pm May to September, later if arriving planes are delayed.
Most people who visit Abu Simbel typically do so through an organised tour from Aswan. Tour services are available through various hotels, travel agencies, and cruise ships located in the town.
Do not rent your own car and drive here, as you need to be a licensed tour operator to pass the security checkpoints.
The drive takes about three hours and will probably start very early — some tour buses start heading to the site as early as 4am. Allow a visit of three hours and then three hours back to Aswan again.
You can either fly to Abu Simbel or visit by bus or on a tour. Please do not rent your own car and drive: only licensed tour operators will pass the security checkpoints. Here’s how to get to Abu Simbel.
The easiest and most convenient way to get to Abu Simbel is by air. There are daily flights from Cairo and Aswan to Abu Simbel, operated by EgyptAir and other airlines.
There is no direct train to Abu Simbel. The closest train station to Abu Simbel is in Aswan, approximately 280 km away. From Aswan, you’ll need to book a tour or bus to Abu Simbel.
There are regular buses from Aswan to Abu Simbel, which take about 4 hours.
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The best time to visit Abu Simbel is during the winter months from November to February, when the weather is cooler and more pleasant for outdoor activities.
During this time, the temperatures in Abu Simbel range from 20°C to 30°C (68°F to 86°F), making it a comfortable time to explore the site.
It's important to note that Abu Simbel can get very hot during the summer months, with temperatures reaching up to 45°C (113°F) in June, July, and August.
Additionally, this period is also the peak tourist season, which means that there may be more crowds and higher prices for accommodation and tours.
If you want to avoid the extreme heat and large crowds, it's recommended to visit Abu Simbel during the winter months. However, do keep in mind that this is also the high season, so be sure to book your accommodation and tours well in advance.
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